Visiting Adelaide’s Impressive Parliament House

Set in the north-west corner of the North Terrace, Adelaide City’s Parliament House is one of the most impressive buildings around – but it wasn’t without its own struggles. A bitter debate took place during the planning and construction of the Parliament building that left construction at a standstill for 50 years.

The Old Parliament House was completed in 1855 but from the outset, there were major problems. The biggest issue was that members were complaining that the building was over-congested and extremely stuffy. Another issue was that during the mid to late 1800s, the young colony was growing and therefore a larger representation at government was needed. This led to the need for a new building.

The site’s original design was the brainchild of E.W. Wright and Lloyd Taylor who won a competition that was conducted to find an elaborate and popular design. Their initial plans featured a Greek Revival theme with ornate columns, huge towers, and a large central dome. This design was soon modified by the Government Architect-in-Chief, E.J. Woods after arguments surrounding the financial constraints of the design which were drastically over budget.

Woods was appointed to supervise the construction by the Marble and Building Company under the premise that he would use marble from their company for the walls and granite for the base.

It wasn’t until 1889 that the first stage of Parliament House was opened. In 1936, Sir J. Langdon Bonython put forward £100,000 for the development of the second stage which was opened in June 1939. This stage included both the central and eastern sections, though money for the central dome that featured in the original plans ran out so this wasn’t completed in time.

The final version of Parliament House features no less than 10 Corinthian columns (the original plan only featured six), with a set of grand steps that make up the North Terrace façade.

Parliament House, Adelaide

So, what happened to the Old Parliament House?

After the opening of the new Parliament House in 1939, the government had initial plans to demolish the old building. However, with the onset of World War II fast approaching, the Royal Australian Air Force began using the building as a recruitment office. After the war, it was used as government offices until the 1970s but continuous alterations to the structure were becoming expensive, and by the mid-1970s the complex was all but rundown. In the late 1970s, the Old Parliament House is re-purposed as a constitutional museum and from 1979 to 1995, it serves as Australia’s first political museum. Nowadays, however, the building has returned to office buildings and committee rooms for the government.

Visiting the New Parliament House

Parliament House is open to the public and gives visitors the chance to explore one of the city’s most impressive buildings. Learn more about the political past, present, and future of the region and Australia on a journey through the decades.

You can enter the building whenever parliament is sitting to watch the action unfold, or you can take one of the free tours that are available on non-sitting weekdays at 10 am and 2 pm. When parliament is sitting, you can also sit in at Question Time, which takes place at 2 pm and sees some members of the government and staff answering questions about the city and beyond.

Today, Parliament House is a 47-seat House of Assembly, consisting of 24 labor, 21 liberal, and 2 independent members. If you want to dive further into the mind of Adelaide’s political scene, a trip to Parliament House should be on your agenda. Not only can you take a free tour of everything that’s on offer, but you have the chance to sit in while the members are taking Question Time and having their regular sittings.

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